The chewy, the crunchy, and the ugly
Granola bars—we’ve all eaten them. Whether they’re your go-to breakfast or the thing you grab at the airport before a 7 a.m. flight, you’re familiar with the chewy, crunchy, sometimes cloying bars. I’ve eaten a lot of crappy granola bars, and I never want to mistakenly buy a bad one again. Instead, I decided to forfeit several meal’s worth of oats and nuts to try 11 granola bars, to see which reigns supreme. Join me, won’t you?
Note: You’ll notice the absence of thicker chewy bars like RX, Larabar, and Clif. Though such bars are often called granola bars, we deemed that to be officially characterized as such, the bar must be held together with oats, a grain, or specifically be labeled "granola bar". Stay tuned for a protein bar taste test sometime in the future.
If you’re a hiker (or some type of athlete): Bobo’s Oat Bars
More like an oat cake than a granola bar, the coconut Bobo’s Oat Bar is an absolute unit. Thick and tender, oat-y and sweet, this is the bar I want to have in my bag when I’m going hiking. As I’ve mentioned in a previous story, this is the granola bar I’ll turn to for pre-workout snack when I’m looking for carbs.
If you’re into Goop-y stuff: Purely Elizabeth Grain Free Superfood Granola Bars
With “Powered by Superfood Reishi” stamped on the label, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I bit into the Purely Elizabeth chocolate sea salt bar. It smelled great, sort of like their granola (which is one of my favorite things to eat, so I was excited). I didn’t taste the reshi as much as the sea salt and rosemary extract (which I later learned is actually a natural preservative of fats and oils), but the bar was mostly just OK. After another bite, I turned to Associate Editor Kate Welsh, who was kind enough to taste with me, and said “I like it, but I want to break this into pieces, put it in a bowl with berries, and top with with milk.” She replied: “So, you really just want it to be their granola?” Exactly.
If you’re uncomfortable and need something great: Kind Granola Bars
Honestly, I could always go for a Kind bar. The dark chocolate, nuts, and sea salt flavor was especially delightful, as it’s basically a healthy-ish version of those turtle clusters your aunt always makes during the holidays. This is the bar I want when I’m uncomfortable and need something soothing, like hour 6 of a flight, when I just need something to do, or halfway through an 11:30 a.m. meeting and my stomach has started to grumble.
If you want to feel like a kid: Annie’s Organic Chewy Granola Bars
Like most of this company’s products, the chocolate chip Annie’s Bar just tasted like the good part of being a kid. You’re not thinking about complexity of flavor or texture, you just want something to chew on that tastes good. That’s what you get here.
If you need to sneak in vegetables: Made Good Granola Bar
The ideal consumer of a Made Good bar is the caregiver of a child who refuses to eat vegetables. Each bar is fortified with vegetable powder containing spinach, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, beets, and shiitake mushrooms. Though the vegetables weren’t noticeable, we unfortunately were only able to find the chocolate-banana bar, and the flavor of fake banana clung on strongly.
If you just got a Waterpik: 365 Organic Chewy Granola Bars
The dark chocolate chip 365 bar was pretty sticky, to the point where a swig of water was needed to fully complete chewing the bar. It had a distinct fruity flavor, which we couldn’t identify, so if you’re into a fun mystery game along with a snack, this is the one.
If you only shop at natural grocery stores: Cascadian Farms Chewy Granola Bars
The chocolate chip Cascadian Farms bar could have been a bit more toasty. The chewy bars were all starting to taste the same at this point, but we noticed that this one had a sort of olive-like taste—though there was no olive oil in the ingredients. Again, another fun mystery bar.
If you can’t find Nature’s Valley: Clif Crunch Granola Bar
Clif Crunch bars are basically a slightly smaller version of the Nature’s Valley bars. The chocolate chip flavor was definitely good, and had I not just eaten the Nature’s Valley bar, I would’ve thought this was my favorite bar of the bunch. It’s nice to see Clif making more than those weirdly addicting chewy rock bars.
If you like honey and not much else: Kashi Chewy Granola Bars
The Kashi bar smelled like honey and tasted like honey. We couldn’t get much from any of the grains or nuts in the bar because the honey was so strong. I know I used to eat these bars as a kid, and really enjoyed them, so I strongly suspect the recipe was changed at some point in the recent past.
If you’re nostalgic for elementary school: Quaker Chewy
I could taste the chocolate chip Chewy bar even before I put it in my mouth. I’ve eaten dozens of these in my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever really liked them, nor have I strongly disliked them. They remind me of the snacks that were brought into my elementary school to keep us kids alert during standardized testing. Kate said it “tastes like watching Arthur after school,” so we were clearly on the same page. Were they too sweet? Definitely, but we were feeling the nostalgia too hard to care.
If you’re nostalgic for high school: Nature’s Valley Crunchy Granola Bars
These were my favorite of the bunch. I can’t tell you when was the last time I had a Nature’s Valley bar, but that first crunch into the maple brown sugar took me right back. It may have been a decade ago, but these used to be one of the best granola bars available, and let me tell you, they hold up under the test of time. They were dry, but in a good way, sweet, but not too sweet, and crunchy (not crispy) but I didn’t fear I would break a tooth. This was the only bar I would have finished.